“Are my chickens cold?” This is hands down the most frequent question we get asked about raising chickens in winter, especially from new keepers in cold climates. A lot of people curious about raising chickens can’t imagine leaving them outside in their unheated coop in the dead of winter. They imagine themselves outside, naked and shivering in the cold and can’t bear the thought of doing that to their hens.
The truth is, your chickens are just fine. Chickens have an amazing tolerance for cold, and many built-in measures to keep them warm in winter. There are a number of things that you can do to help make them comfortable, and they’re easy to boot!
Are your Chickens Cold?
The blunt and easy answer here is… probably not. Your chickens have the ability to survive the cold weather with very little help from you. The only reasons that your chickens may be suffering from cold would be if it gets brutally cold where you live (well below zero for most of the winter), or if your chicken coop is not properly made for winters. We’ll cover more about chickens coops and cold weather at the end of this article, but if you want even more information don’t miss our post How to Winterize the Chicken Coop.
How chickens deal with cold weather
When the temperature starts to drop, your chickens start to prep for winter. They eat a bit more to put on some insulating fat, and their bodies work hard to regrow any feathers lost during their fall molt.
Another way that chickens avoid the cold is to fluff their feathers, creating a pocket of warm air between the feathers and skin. This holds the warm air radiating from the chicken’s body and keeps them comfortable even on the coldest nights. You may also notice your chickens cuddling together on the roost at night. This is another way that chickens stay warm in winter.
If you still don’t believe that your chickens are perfectly fine in the coop on a cold night, here’s some proof. The next time you have a chilly night, venture out into the chicken coop. Place your hand under the wing of a chicken, or between their feathers, right next to the skin. I think you’ll see that your chickens are doing just fine in the chill.
Warning signs that your chickens are too cold
While it’s unlikely that your chickens will truly suffer from the cold while cooped up, certain issues in the coop can cause misery for your chickens. Chickens need a clean, dry, draft-free but well ventilated coop to be happy in the winter time. If your coop isn’t supplying them with that basic necessity, or if it consistently drops well below zero during the winter in your area, your chickens may be suffering. Two signs that your chickens are suffering from the cold are frost bite and hypothermia.
Frost bite in chickens
If you notice frost bite on the combs or wattles of your chickens, you definitely have an issue. Frost bite is more of an issue with excess moisture in the coop than it is with excess cold. Make sure your coop is well ventilated at the top so moisture is always moving out and fresh air is always moving in. Also make sure to clean out and replace the bedding frequently if you find your chickens with frost bite. Moisture from the droppings in the bedding can easily cause too much moisture to build up in your coop.
Hypothermia in chickens
Another sign that your chickens are too cold is hypothermia. This life threatening issue can set in if chickens get chilled and can’t properly warm themselves back up. It can happen when chickens get wet, maybe from standing outside in rain or snow, or if they’re exposed to a cold draft in the coop. Hypothermia in chickens is pretty obvious, they’ll go stiff, eyes staring or closed, and their body will be cold to the touch.
How to treat hypothermia in chickens:
If you find a chicken suffering from hypothermia, take it indoors right away. Warm a towel in the microwave and wrap it around the bird. Once the chicken starts coming to, you can move it to a small animal cage or box with some cozy pine shavings, clean straw, or even some old blankets. Place the box under a heat lamp or near a heat source like a wood stove or radiator.
How to ensure your chickens stay warm in winter
There are several great ways to ensure your chickens stay cozy this winter. The following tips have been proven to cut down on the cold in your chicken coop and help your chickens stay active and warm in the coop
- Insulate the chicken coop
- Put a thick layer of cozy straw or pine shavings on the coop floor
- Make sure windows and doors are closed tight, and ensure there are no drafts blowing on your flock
- Make sure the coop is well ventilated. Cut a window at the top of the coop, where the wall meets the ceiling, and cover it tightly with hardware cloth. This will let moisture and stinky air escape, and let clean air come in, without causing a draft on your flock
- Give your flock some chicken treats to keep them busy and help them put on a nice layer of insulating fat. Our favorite treats for winter can be found on this list!
- Get a base heater for your water fount to ensure your chickens always have fresh, unfrozen water available.
Thirsty for more information? Our friends at Timber Creek Farm have some great tips on how to tell if your chickens are actually cold, how to prepare your chicken coop to keep your chickens warm in the winter, and extra tips on how to keep the water from freezing.
I hope you’re feeling a little bit better about keeping your chickens outside in the coop during the cold and blustery winter. As always, if you have any questions or concerns, feel free to leave a comment below, I’d be glad to talk it over with you!